‘Misleading’ Fracking ClaimsDonna Rachel Edmunds
Friends of the Earth (FoE) has been twice rebuked by Britain’s advertising standards watchdog this week after it tried to deny that claims it made about fracking were false.Earlier this week the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) ruled that FoE had failed to substantiate claims made in a leaflet that fracking could cause cancer, lower house prices, contaminate water, and increase asthma rates. It said that FoE had agreed not to make the claims again, or claims to the same effect, allowing it to close the case without making a formal ruling, The Times has reported.
The case is listed on the ASA’s website as “informally resolved”, along with 50 other such cases to have come before the agency this week. However, in an appearance on Channel 4 News on Wednesday night, Rose Dickinson, a spokesman for FoE, said: “All we have said to the ASA is that we will not continue to circulate an old leaflet about fracking. We stand by everything in the leaflet.”
On the same day, FoE published an article by fellow campaigner Tony Bosworth saying that the ASA had closed the case “without making a ruling”, before going on to repeat claims that fracking adversely effects heath and the environment.
But the advertising watchdog has insisted that the environmentalists have given a false account of proceedings. A spokesman said it had now written to FoE “to remind them of the agreement they signed up to and the consequences if we receive a complaint about these claims being made by them again”.
ASA chief executive Guy Parker, yesterday followed this up by publishing a statement on the agency’s website, writing: “[L]et me be clear. We told Friends of the Earth that, based on the evidence we’d seen, claims it made in its anti-fracking leaflet, or claims with the same meaning, cannot be repeated and asked for an assurance that they wouldn’t be. Friends of the Earth gave us an assurance to that effect.
“Friends of the Earth has said we ‘dropped the case’. That’s not an accurate reflection of what’s happened. We thoroughly investigated the complaints we received and closed the case on receipt of the above assurance. Because of that, we decided against publishing a formal ruling, but plainly that’s not the same thing as ‘dropping the case’. Crucially, the claims under the microscope mustn’t reappear in ads, unless the evidence changes. Dropped cases don’t have that outcome.”
In response, FoE has said it will be speaking again to ASA as it did not accept its account of what had taken place.
The row comes as fracking company Cuadrilla begins preparing a site in Lancashire for fracking to commence around September. Chief executive Francis Egan hailed the work as an “important milestone” as permission to drill was initially denied by Lancashire County Council, despite advice to the contrary from both their planning and legal departments, and the Department for Energy and Climate Change.